Restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe might not want to return to the Phoenix Suns in 2014-2015. Barring drastic actions from either party, though, he probably doesn’t have a choice. Bledsoe and the Suns are far, far apart on contract negotiations despite the frenzy of free agency finally winding down – his camp is seeking a five-year, $80 million deal, and Phoenix has countered by offering a contract worth four years and $48 million. That’s a major discrepancy and one worth fighting for, but the nature of restricted free agency likely means Bledsoe will reluctantly back down from his financial demand sometime in coming weeks and accept the Suns’ deal. And according to multiple front office executives throughout the league, Bledsoe should even feel lucky Phoenix has offered him the $48 million he deems so insulting.
The report is courtesy of azcentral.com’s Paul Coro. Somewhat surprisingly, Coro found no team source that believes Bledsoe is worth substantially more than the deal the Suns presented him.
Four current NBA executives and two prominent agents were anonymously unanimous in their belief that the Suns made a fair offer to Bledsoe and that he does not merit a maximum-salary contract now.
One executive considered $48 million to be more than enough.
“I’m surprised that they would offer him that much,” he said. “They don’t need to. It is really fair and, in fact, generous. He is talented, but he has never put it together very long, and he hasn’t been healthy. It’s hard to turn your team over to him…”
One executive and one agent said they could see paying him slightly more than Phoenix’s offer, but only approaching $13 million per year.
“He expected way too much,” another executive said. “They built up his head, and it gets him out of whack. I’d love to have him, but he’s not a max player. All it takes is one team, but one team hasn’t made him an offer sheet…”
“There is no way anyone in a million years could say the Suns are being unfair,” an agent said. “Nobody can blame the Suns at all.”
Bledsoe’s case demonstrates layered minutiae of restricted free agency. Phoenix made clear from the period’s outset that it would match any offer to Bledsoe, lending credence to his belief that the Suns have used the process against him. They’re entitled to do so, of course, and GM Ryan McDonough is taking the prudent approach by trying to maintain as much cap flexibility going forward as possible.
But coach Jeff Hornacek’s recent contention that Bledsoe is a future “top-10 player in the NBA” works against Phoenix in negotiations with the dynamo point guard. There’s a balancing act teams must strike in dealing with their own restricted free agents. They need to express interest in the player as to not ruffle feathers, but also temper his expectations to take full advantage of their exclusive rights and hopefully sign him to a contract below market value. Hornacek’s public optimism tilted Bledsoe’s perspective the wrong way, and the Suns are paying the price.
This would all be moot if another team had offered Bledsoe a contract that falls between the $12-16 million range. Phoenix would likely have matched the deal if Bledsoe signed it, and would have his market set by a third party even if he didn’t. Instead, both player and franchise are working from a gray area of prospective value.
Either way, the take of other team executives is important. It always seemed irrational for Bledsoe to expect a max-level offer given the wealth of top-shelf point guards in today’s NBA, and his lack of experience – due to backing up Chris Paul with the Los Angeles Clippers and a series of health maladies – makes him less of a known commodity than his solid 2013-2014 numbers suggest. Kyle Lowry, a realistic comparison for a fully-evolved Bledsoe, signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Toronto Raptors on July 1 – the very same deal from which Phoenix won’t budge and Bledsoe won’t accept.
Bledsoe’s argument is thinner. Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons received max contracts in restricted free agency, and neither player is a two-way force like Bledsoe. But that surface-level take ignores crucial context. The market for wings not only ballooned due to the league’s lack of quality at that position, but Hayward and Parsons signed offer sheets with competing teams, too. Hands of the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets were forced into agreeing to max-level terms, and the latter ultimately deemed Parsons too expensive. Bledsoe’s restricted free agency and Hayward’s/Parsons’ is hardly apples-to-apples.
The most likely scenario has always been that Bledsoe and the Suns will eventually reach a compromise, and that remains the case today. But the opinion of other teams supports Phoenix’s stance, a detail the Suns will surely point to as negotiations with Bledsoe continue.
What do you think Bledsoe is worth?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @ArmstrongWinter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.